The curriculum that changes itself

Every ten years or so, a new curriculum for basic education is published in my country, México. Usually, the document, hundreds of pages long, is announced with great fanfare.

It’s hard, if not impossible, to keep up with the pace of our world nowadays. Unfortunately, even before the ink of the newest curriculum dries, it is already outdated, irrelevant, or both.

If I had the unlikely power to change the school curriculum, I would try to design the curriculum that changes itself.

The curriculums I have known are completely sequenced, lineal and mostly fixed. There is very little room, if any, to take exciting detours towards student’s interests.

My curriculum would be based on passion projects, aimed at gaining knowledge and abilities, but also at discovering whatever fires a student’s heart. Enlightening the mind would be hand in hand with caressing the spirit. Each child or teenager would have the liberty and responsibility of choosing his or her own educational path. The passion projects would give them the basics of many subjects, from reading to math to arts to science, and tease them to come get more. Instead of the lineal ladder, we would see a capricious web with many lines, different for each student. All would start at the center, the core of the web, but move outwards in many directions, even taking jumps and turns.

The curriculum would be huge, but only to accommodate the diversity of student’s interests. It would not be expected from anyone to cover it whole. You could easily go in depth to a subject that called you and cover the ones which did not in a more superficial way.

Four core elements would guide the flow, but they are not to be confused with “subjects”: Technology, Global Citizenship, Thinking Skills and Reading.

Technology would be the platform, the rocket that carries content. It would not be the teacher or the content itself. Technology – even great technology – will not replace teachers, good or bad. But it will certainly change the way we teach.

As we continue to evolve into a kind of worldwide school, Global Citizenship is a must to guide our students into the hyper connected and multi demanding society we are already immersed in. Religious tolerance, gender equality, inclusion, respect for diversity, responsible use of our resources, and yes, knowledge and caring about the world’s most pressing problems –both global and local- are far more important than, say, memorize the date in which Columbus arrived to America (something Dr. Google could easily drop in).

That brings us to critical thinking skills. Knowledge remains being very important – but along with it, the ability to tell the truthful from the inaccurate. Google indeed has all the answers: including many wrong or biased ones. You don’t need to know everything, but you must know where and how to find the reliable information you need.

Tomorrow, children will have to constantly reinvent themselves to keep up with the challenges of this fourth industrial revolution. Therefore, autodidacts are in demand. If you want lifelong learners, you need lifelong readers. Our school systems have been somewhat successful in developing people that can read – but not into developing readers. There is something completely wrong about that – and we need to find solutions now.

Is this proposed curriculum a utopia? It might well be.

But hey, I’m just a teacher.

 

As part of C.M. Rubin’s Top Global Teacher Bloggers, this is my response to this month’s question: Do you believe curriculum needs to be more relevant for a 21st century world?  If you had the power to change the school curriculum, what would you change?

 

Photo credits:

Copyright: rawpixel / 123RF Stock Photo

Copyright: attaphong / 123RF Stock Photo

Empowering Young Learners against Fake News

We have trained them to be quiet and attentive in class. We have convinced them that questioning the teacher is the same as being disrespectful. We have tricked them into blindly believing in their textbooks –and, by extension, in almost anything in print. We have told them what to learn and how to do it. We have complimented them for thinking like we do and we have made their lives difficult when they don’t.

And then, when they can’t distinguish facts from bias, when they so easily succumb to fake news, when they believe that being popular and famous is enough proof for reliability, we are shocked. What were we expecting?

As long as we keep looking at schools as the places to transmit “The Knowledge”, we will be perpetuating the belief that people in places of authority should dictate what we know and how we think. Changing schools into crucibles for ideas and educators into patrons for critical thinking skills is an ever unfolding, challenging task. How do we start?

Step down from the shrine. A teacher is not someone who knows a great deal of things and passes them on to passive, ignorant students. The idea of an omniscient, illuminated teacher might appeal to the ego, but will be a disservice for young, untrained minds. Knowledge cannot be simply downloaded from one mind to the other, and human brains are not just data warehouses. When you teach, beware of mind-closing phrases like “this I the way it must be done”. And don’t be afraid of honestly saying “I don’t know the answer to that” from time to time.

Educate yourself. Acquiring a broad array of relevant knowledge is not enough, but it is the first step to becoming an educated citizen and responsible media consumer. If you have your facts straight, it is less likely that you will fall prey into false claims and propaganda. However, students also need the skills to identify reliable sources and properly process the growing amount of incoming information. Educate yourself, and your learners, in media literacy.

Get active. Create awareness about fake news and discuss how they can affect us. Present your students with both authentic and questionable posts and challenge them to tell them apart. Discuss how Facebook and Twitter are not filters, but merely platforms for content. Dig deep into motives and objectives of any published piece and bring them out in classroom debates. We combat fake news and propaganda precisely by exposing our children to them, with guidance and support, and not by hiding, ignoring or minimizing them. It is also crucial that our students stop and think twice before sharing and liking anything they find on social media: if they go ahead with all impulse and little reason, they become part of the problem.

We will never be able to completely shield our learners from all that is misleading and inaccurate in the media, so we better start teaching them how to outsmart the many ones out there who, for any reason, want to dumb them down.

 

As part of the Top Global Teacher Bloggers from Cathy Rubin’s Global Search for Education, this is my answer to this month’s question: How to we teach young people the rigorous critical thinking and research skills to distinguish news from propaganda? How do we ensure the next generation is one which communicates civically, values honesty, and recognizes reality?